Max Beckmann. Descent from the Cross. 1917
Max Beckmann

Descent from the Cross

Not on view
Oil on canvas
59 1/2 x 50 3/4" (151.2 x 128.9 cm)
Curt Valentin Bequest
Object number
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Painting and Sculpture

Max Beckmann's Kreuzabnahme (Descent from the cross) presents an unflinching look at bodily suffering—a timely topic in the midst of a seemingly never-ending war. Multiple perspectives are combined to focus the eye on Jesus's oversize corpse, his pale flesh covered in bruises and sores, with coagulated blood pooling around the gaping black holes of the stigmata. His emaciated arms stretch across the picture and in their rigor mortis still mirror the shape of the cross. Beckmann thinly and precisely applied paint in cold, restrained hues, in contrast to his exuberant brushwork for his prewar canvases.

Beckmann possibly made this painting to answer a challenge posed by curator Gustav Hartmann to create a modern work as powerful as medieval German art, which they had viewed together in Frankfurt (along with works by Italian, Flemish, and German Old Masters that significantly influenced Beckmann's style). Beckmann, after spending a few years making only prints, had recently returned to painting.

Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.

Provenance Research Project
This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.
The artist, Frankfurt; sold to Georg Hartmann (1870-1954), Frankfurt; returned to the artist [1]; sold to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut and Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt am Main, 1919 [2]; removed as "degenerate art" by the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, October 26, 1936 [3]; on consignment to Karl Buchholz (1901-1992), Berlin, 1938; to Curt Valentin (1902-1954), New York (sold April 21, 1941) [4]; Estate of Curt Valentin, New York, 1954; acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955 (Curt Valentin Bequest).
[1] The painting was first acquired by Georg Hartmann, but then returned to the Beckmann's studio, because it apparently upset Hartmann's wife (see Göpel 192, p. 134).
[2] Purchased from Beckmann under Director Georg Swarzenski in 1919 (Inv. no. SG 291).
[3] See Beschlagnahmeinventar "Entartete Kunst", "Degenerate Art" Research Center, FU Berlin). See Sara Eskilsson Werwigk, "Ein Gemälde geht ins Exil: Auf den Spuren der Kreuzabnahme von Max Beckmann," Uwe Fleckner, ed., Das verfemte Meisterwerk, Berlin: Akademieverlag, 2009, pp. 105-135). EK inventory number: 15933 (Kreuzabnahme). Included in the exhibitions Der Bolschewismus - große antibolschewistische Schau, Deutsches Museum, Munich, November 7, 1936-January 31, 1937; and Entartete Kunst, Munich (July 19-November 30, 1937) and other venues (Berlin, Leipzig, Düsseldorf, Salzburg, Stettin, Weimar, Vienna). See Beschlagnahmeinventar "Entartete Kunst", "Degenerate Art" Research Center, FU Berlin .
[4] Included in the exhibition Landmarks in Modern German Art, Buchholz Gallery, New York, April 2-27, 1940 (no. 1).

If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please e-mail or write to:

Provenance Research Project
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019

Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053;; Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124;;

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information, or have spotted an error, please send feedback to
This work is not on view.
Max Beckmann has 219 works online.
There are 2,047 paintings online.